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The Cleveland Indians are taking social media really, really seriously

Mar 24, 2011, 9:32 AM EDT

Progressive Field

I may waste about 93% of my day cracking wise on Twitter, but I’m no social media expert. I can’t say, therefore, what an aggressive social media initiative can do for a business.  I understand how buzz can make people click YouTube videos and low transaction cost things like that, but I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to figuring out whether one’s efforts to translate buzz into cash on the barrel head are truly working. I do know this, though: the Cleveland Indians are going to figure it out before any other baseball team does.

The Indians took a big step into social media last year, getting active on Twitter and Facebook and doing fun things like launching the Tribe Social Deck, which was a dedicated and decked-out space in the left field seats for bloggers and tweeters and stuff.  I was invited to the Social Deck a couple of times last season. It was great fun and led to some connections between some plugged-in Indians fans and me.  This year, however, the Indians are ramping things up in a major way. There’s a video press release of it here, but here are the relevant details:

For starters, they have moved the Social Deck from left field to an actual suite, and have renamed it the Indians Social Suite.  The team will continue to invite social media mavens to the space this year on a game-by-game basis (you can apply for an invite here).  I’ll be in the Social Suite on Opening Day as the Indians take on the White Sox next Friday and I’ll be tweeting and blogging and stuff from there.

And yes, I’d be blogging about all of this even if I hadn’t been invited. There is certainly a public relations aspect to all of this, but the Indians have made a point to invite bloggers who are critical of the team. Heck, I’ve been critical of the team and will continue to be as criticism is warranted, and they’ve continued to be swell to me.  Not that I’ll name any names, but a lot of other clubs could take a hint. Some ballparks won’t let you bring an iPad in.  Others have media relations people who seek out bloggers and try to intimidate them when they write negative stuff.  Get a clue fellas.

Beyond the Social Suite, the Indians are introducing discounted tickets for followers of the team’s social media outlets (i.e. Facebook and Twitter feeds).  They’re also going to be using the At Bat 11 application in the the ballpark during games, allowing fans to receive discounts on various things. I presume this means concessions and refreshments and whatnot.

Finally, they’ve released a really comprehensive list of the team’s active Twitter accounts, including Mark Shapiro (@MarkShapiro), Chris Antonetti (@IndiansGM), Manny Acta (@mactriber_11) and the Indians radio guys (@IndiansRadio).  Their PR department has long been active on Twitter (@tribetalk).  A handful of Indians players are also on Twitter, most notably Shelley Duncan (@shelldunc). Well, notable for my daughter’s purposes anyway.

Like I said: I don’t know what this could mean to the Indians bottom line. Social media is a world where, I suspect, more people are making money by selling their services as so-called social media experts than by actually using social media to sell products.  In this, it’s akin to the California Gold Rush and any number of other times in history where those working on the periphery selling dry goods and the like do better than those actually mining for gold.

But the Indians are a team in a competitive funk in a financially-challenged city with a declining population.  They have nothing to lose here, and they should be credited for trying something new to drum up interest.  Good for them for being creative.

  1. woodenulykteneau - Mar 24, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    Craig, this appears to be an initiative spearheaded by MLBAM — google “Social Media Clubhouse,” you’ll see what I mean…

    • Craig Calcaterra - Mar 24, 2011 at 9:42 AM

      On some of this, yes, but the Indians really are doing something different here. I know the guy in the PR department there who is spearheading the Indians’ stuff. A lot of what MLBAM is doing is as a result of individual team’s suggestions, with the Indians at the forefront. In contrast, there are other teams that have been fairly hostile to MLBAM’s efforts and resent having their PR operation standardized.

  2. writtenbyross - Mar 24, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    The real reason the Indians are all about social media: IT’S FREE

  3. ulrik3 - Mar 24, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    While it appears to be free, there is a cost associated with setting up, promoting and maintaining all of these efforts (man hours, the suite itself, etc). The Indians front office undoubtedly spends significant amounts of money on statistical analysis of their players so it is also likely tracking the effectiveness of the social media effort in terms of resulting ticket sales, concession discounts, etc. If they’ve already decided that it’s worthwhile to move their Social Suite from left field to an actual suite then it’s likely that they’re seeing some positive ROI. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the league picks up on this and starts ramping up their own social media programs.

    Aside from all that, it’s a great way to engage younger fans and develop some fan loyalty.

    • writtenbyross - Mar 24, 2011 at 11:18 AM

      Giving up a suite you probably wouldn’t have sold for most games isn’t losing money. Having someone (most likely interns for the most part) run a Twitter and Facebook feed doesn’t take much cash. Obviously it’s not totally free, but it’s super low budget which is Dolans m.o.

  4. williamnyy23 - Mar 24, 2011 at 10:21 AM

    The Indians should be commended for being innovative, but it’s now time for Selig to take the lead. MLB’s goal should be to make it the most social media friendly sport in the U.S.

    If anyone’s interested, I have a post on this topic that ranks teams by Facebook likes. It’s an interesting list.

  5. Lukehart80 - Mar 24, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    I’m glad to see them trying something beyond what most teams have attempted. The extra 2%, right? If it helps even a little to generate interest in the team and cultivate new fans, it deserves a big thumbs up.

  6. joetarring - Mar 24, 2011 at 11:07 AM

    It’s not just the social media side either, Craig. I write over at and although we don’t get anything like the traffic HBT gets I know for a fact there are members of the Indians’ front office who check our site and read our stuff. I’m sure they’re not the only club who scour blogs but they do appear to be more dedicated to that side of things.

  7. bigtrav425 - Mar 24, 2011 at 11:09 AM

    As a tribe fan i guess atleast its positive news

  8. Detroit Michael - Mar 24, 2011 at 11:10 AM

    Mookie likes Shelley. Thanks for the reminder!

  9. atribecalledtwolves - Mar 24, 2011 at 2:28 PM

    I’m glad to see the Tribe be a little innovative. Other than Ron Gardenhire and Buck Showalter, Manny Acta might be my favorite manager.

  10. etd2525 - Mar 25, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    I think this is a fantastic idea for many reasons. First, it brings the fans much closer to the organization. The more a fan feels part of such an organization, the more interested they will be. Indians fans, young and old, will now feel much more connected to the team on a much more personal level. Distributing discounts and promotions through social media is also a fantastic idea. I would be very surprised if this does not bring many more fans out to the ballpark. Also, for those who are not able to attend the game, the “social deck suite” will provide these fans an opportunity to gain insight to each Indians game. Look for this to catch on at many other ball parks!

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